May Spirit bless us all, now, and forever. Amen.
January 9, 2022
The most bizarre and totally amazing and totally incredible thing happened the other day. I was talking to my niece, who is staying with us over winter break. I was telling her about my faith deconstruction journey. I was telling her I patently reject the concept of eternal conscious damnation, otherwise known in evangelical Christian theology as “hell”.
My mother, who is deaf, was looking at me. She was pleading with her eyes and her body, as she does whenever I’m in conversation with someone and she’s in the room, to catch her up – to tell her what we’re discussing. It is in my nature to turn toward her and assist, to bring her up to speed. For my entire life, I very much want her to be included in conversation. I want her to know what I am talking about, what I think, what the others in conversation are saying. I have no desire to leave her out. I have always felt it’s out and out cruel to continue in conversation without recognizing and acknowledging her need to know. And yet, that is what most people do, even members of our own family. She has a right to know, and I have an obligation to be her ears. Well, that’s a whole other story, why I feel compelled to be her ears in a hearing world… But I do. I always have.
I turned and looked at her straight on. Using my exaggerated mouth voice, so she could lipread every word, I said, “I don’t believe in hell anymore. What do you think about hell?”
“Jesus is love,” she said. “Jesus is love. He would not send anyone to hell. He is love!”
I was shocked. Beyond shocked.
This is my 83-year-old mother, a product of evangelical Christian indoctrination, just as I am. She is a devout follower of Jesus Christ, who was converted during our three year stint at Open Door Baptist Church, which transpired during my very formative adolescent years. She knows the evangelical Christian line, the theology, the tenets. She has not studied the Bible; she has not delved into what she was taught in any depth. The King James Version of the Bible is incomprehensible to me. Her ability to translate Old English into any semblance of meaning whatsoever is zero. There was no internet in the 70s! And there is now, but she does not immerse herself, as I do, in the daily research and exploration and hunger for the unending learning that fuels my life’s path and my writing.
Foolishly, I assumed she adhered to the traditional tenets. But, after she said she didn’t think anyone went to hell, I searched hard into my past for a contradiction. I dove deep into my memory and looked for any instance of her condemning anyone for not being “saved”, for not accepting Jesus Christ into their heart as their personal Lord and Savior. I came to the realization I’ve never heard my mother condemn anyone to hell. Not ever. Not ever even anything close.
My mother. With her childlike innocence and her unwavering belief in the love of Jesus Christ. To my recollection, she has never had the audacity and the hubris to claim she had salvation and was destined to heaven yet there were many who were not. Amazing. I did not realize this until after she said what she said, and I searched and searched my memory for her ever having expressed this judgment. There was none I could recall. Amazing.
I never heard her say anything in contradiction to the Southern Baptist party line because it wasn’t within my realm of comprehension it was even possible she didn’t adhere wholeheartedly to the Southern Baptist party line. And I see, now, I was sorely mistaken. I didn’t ever ask her what she believed, because I assumed she believed the lies.
My mother, who reads prayers aloud from her FaceBook feed every night, and who looks to the ceiling and exclaims, “I love you Jesus. I love you with all my heart. Thank you. Thank you.”
I used to cringe when I heard her. In my mind, I scoffed at her lack of understanding, her lack of education, her apparent lack of any desire to broaden her perspective. I chuffed, audibly, and thought, “She is so brainwashed! She is so blocked! She can never know the truth! She just accepts and embraces the lies. She is so STUPID!”
It used to hurt my heart she could buy into such lies. Not that there is no Jesus. Because I believe in Jesus. But that my mother was beseeching an exclusionary Jesus, the Jesus I was taught. She wasn’t. She isn’t. She is talking to Spirit. The same Spirit I talk to. The same Spirit I can see at work in my life. The same Spirit who lays truth on my heart.
It turns out I am the fool, not my mother. I don’t cringe any longer. I smile when I hear her proclaim her faith and her love of Spirit. It’s not how I express my love and gratefulness to Spirit, but my mother is a unique and miraculous creation. She is a child of Spirit. She gets to commune with Spirit however she chooses! She has already embraced the truths Spirit has lain on her heart. Her belief is far purer than mine. It is not muddied by the fucked up lies of the evangelical church.
Her deafness is a blessing of sorts. She’s not been privy to the ambient conversations of “Christians”. She’s not had the vocabulary or the wherewithal to grasp the nuances of theology manufactured by the Christian Church in their thwarted and concerted effort to divide and condemn. She has always been completely open to Spirit’s work in her life and in her heart. Her line to Spirit is the mainline. Her relationship with Spirit has never been polluted by the lies of mainstream Christianity.
I so often assumed she has lost out, that she has missed out on so much important information because of her deafness. But now I realize what a massive load of horseshit she has had the incredible fortune of not having been fed, not having heard, and not having been pressured to embrace.
I also realize I don’t give her enough credit. She is deaf, her language skills are limited, but she is not stupid. Actually, I have always believed that. I get frustrated by her simplistic ways and thinking. But I have never thought her stupid. Not ever.
My mother is a strong woman with an incredibly strong will. She has always had a mind of her own, she has always drawn her own conclusions, she has rarely had the confidence or the permission to express them. She is childlike, naïve in so many ways, but she is nobody’s fool. I simply do not give her the credit she deserves. And for that, I am sorry. For that, I am the fool.
But I am nobody’s fool, either. I am strong because she is strong, and she learned strength from her mother. I am the product of a tens of thousand’s year-old line of strong women. I strive to pass on my strength of knowledge and conviction to the young women that come into my life. And, thank Spirit, I have been successful in that, I have made a difference. My strength has been imbued into other women. The resilience and strength I have cultivated, and that of all those before me, will miraculously live on.
May Spirit bless us all, now, and forever. Amen.
Photo by Vaishakh pillai on Unsplash